Charles Lowery tells the story of a husband and wife who reached an impasse in their marriage. Years of resentment and hurt had piled up until it threatened to smother the relationship. They made an appointment with a therapist.
The therapist came to their home and began the tedious work of unpacking this couple’s baggage. It took some time to dig through it all, but finally the husband admitted that he was especially angry that in all their years of marriage his wife had never changed the toilet tissue roll in the bathroom.
The wife was incredulous. She protested and countered that she had in fact changed the toilet paper roll countless times. The husband exploded in anger and stormed from the room. Shortly, he returned with several large plastic garbage bags he had been storing in his closet.
He ripped the bags open and began raining the contents all over the room. The bags were filled with hundreds of empty cardboard cylinders inscribed with a date and time. Through the years the husband had meticulously recorded and stockpiled every time he had changed the toilet paper
It is easy to keep a record of offenses. We all do it. We may not do it with the same neurosis of the husband with his toilet paper rolls, but we keep score nonetheless. We know who has hurt us. We know how we were hurt, and we know where and when it all happened.
We keep a mental list of those who deserve retaliation, and we can recall the date, time, and place of the wrongdoing against us. How can we rid ourselves of this kind of baggage, of this kind of heaviness?
It may be easy for those of us who call ourselves Christians to speak flippantly of forgiveness, but it is another thing altogether to actually forgive. Forgiveness, while liberating and healing to both the forgiver and forgiven, is a costly enterprise.
No one could have known this better than Joseph. As difficult as forgiveness is to grant, Joseph was willing to pay the price. Graciously, deliberately, and eagerly, Joseph cut the chains of injustice and allowed his brothers to go free.
Now, this was no easy thing; not for Joseph, not for anyone. The difficulty lies in the fact that forgiveness is not natural. It is not fair. It deprives the one who has been offended from achieving justice.
Forgiveness lets the offender off the hook. It sets the offender free without penalty and without punishment for the sin he or she has committed. The mere thought of this is enough to turn our stomachs.
How can someone who has stolen from us, who has molested us, who has betrayed us, who has abused us – how can these people, these crimes, be forgiven? How can we open the door on the jail cell in which we hold them and simply allow them to walk away?
The answer is as complex as it is simple. Every time forgiveness takes place, the price for that offense is paid. But it is paid by the victim rather than the wrongdoer.
When forgiveness is granted, the one who has been hurt is saying, “I will live with the consequences of what has happened without vengeance and without the demand of payment. I will pay the price myself. I will absorb the loss.”
As Joseph granted forgiveness to his brothers, he was essentially opening the ledger, marking their debts “paid in full,” and then closing the account. He gave up his rights. He relinquished his need for compensation and personally bore the cost of their sin against himself.
Where did this ability to forgive come from? From God, and only God. Forgiveness is not natural – it is supernatural. It is otherworldly. Every time the words “I forgive you” are spoken, this is the unearthly act that takes place.
Forgiveness is the proof that God has worked a miracle of grace in us. So rather than trying to muster up forgiveness on our own, which we are truly incapable of doing, it is the better choice to ask God to do it for us.
When God does, it is obvious to a watching world that something Divine is at work; and we are all, offender and offended, better for it.
This is an article based on Ronnie McBrayer’s book, But God Meant it for Good; Lessons from the Life of Joseph. The book is available at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.